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The first European. The first Dallas Maverick. The first -- ahem -- in 25 years not to get his team out of the first friggin’ round of the playoffs.

As expected, Dirk Nowitzki will be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player next Tuesday at a press conference at the American Airlines Center. To say the least, it will be bittersweet.

There will be much ink spilled across the nation about how a 7-footer rendered a liability by Golden State’s Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes isn’t deserving of basketball’s most prestigious individual honor. (After Tuesday, Dirk will own as many MVPs as Shaquille O’Neal.) But repeat after me: There’s no place like the regular season. There’s no place like the regular season. There’s no place like the regular season.

The award is for performance over 82 games. And from November to April, Dirk was undoubtedly the best player on the league’s best team. He averaged 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and a career-best 3.4 assists. He was the only player in the league to shoot at least 50 percent from the field (.502), 40 percent from three-point range (.416) and 90 percent from the free-throw line (.904). His team went 67-15 and won only its second division title in franchise history. He was named first-team All-NBA -- meaning he’s one of the five best players on the planet -- for a third consecutive year.

The dissection of Dirk’s disintegration in the playoffs has been underway for a week. (He had only three magical minutes in the series. Avery Johnson questioned his attitude. He played soft. He’s the first MVP since Houston’s Moses Malone in 1982 to accept the award after his team was eliminated. Yadda. Yadda. And more yadda.) The criticism, deservingly, will continue through the summer and into training camp in October and, likely, until the day he lifts the Mavs to a championship.

But for at least one day, let’s praise what Dirk did right for six months. Instead of poo-pooing what he did wrong for six games. --Richie Whitt

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